Methodist supporters of Israel-related divestment regroup after setback

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Jessica Vargo, chair of the Finance Administration Committee at the 2016 Methodist General Conference, gives direction during a committee meeting on May 12, 2016, at the Oregon Convention Center in Portland, Ore. Photo courtesy of Rick Wolcott

Source: RNS

Emily McFarlan Miller is a national reporter for RNS based in Chicago. She covers evangelical and mainline Protestant Christianity.
Lauren Markoe has been a national reporter for RNS since 2011. Previously she covered government and politics as a daily reporter at the Charlotte Observer and The State (Columbia, S.C.)

PORTLAND, Ore. (RNS) United Methodists who want their church to sanction Israel are regrouping after a committee at their denomination’s General Conference rejected four divestment or investment screening resolutions over the weekend.

Those resolutions “pretty much went down in flames,” said John Lomperis, the director of the Institute on Religion and Democracy’s United Methodist Action Program and an opponent of divestment.

At the quadrennial policymaking gathering of the 7 million-member church, supporters of selective divestment from companies to pressure Israel out of the Israeli-occupied territories now are rallying around several different plans for the 864 delegates to consider.

Divestment related to the territories has been a contentious issue at the conference, as it has been in other mainline churches, on college campuses and in trade unions in recent years. Pro-Palestinian divestment supporters say it can help free an oppressed people. Anti-divestment groups say the strategy seeks to delegitimize Israel’s existence and ignores Palestinians’ role in the conflict.

Positive investments are not a substitute for divestment, according to Susanne Hoder, co-chair of the United Methodist Kairos Response, which had prepared the resolutions related to Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

But, Hoder said, “Where we see opportunities to move forward together, we’re going to seize them, and I think we’ve demonstrated that in a conference where there are a lot of strong differences of opinion, we’ve managed to find a way forward to work together with people who have opposing views.”

Kairos Response had prepared four resolutions related to the Israeli occupation. One was voted down Saturday (May 14) by the church’s Finance Administration committee. Then three resolutions encouraging divestment were also rejected, according to the conference’s legislation tracker. The committee decided instead to favor a petition that had been amended into a general commitment to responsible investment.

Kairos Response now is supporting another amended petition, which commends the denomination “for developing investment policies that address human rights violations around the world,” according to Hoder.

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